With extreme heatwaves affecting nearly 200 million Americans and the ocean off Florida’s coast reaching alarming temperatures, the reality of the climate crisis is undeniable. It is evident that we need to urgently reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. However, the Edison Electric Institute, representing privately owned utilities supplying power to millions, is set to oppose a crucial part of President Biden’s climate action plan.
What’s even more disturbing is that I, as a Southern California Edison customer, am unknowingly contributing to funding this effort to delay climate action. Southern California residents, too, are likely doing the same.
Southern California Edison, serving a significant portion of Los Angeles County, claims to lead the electric power industry’s transformation. However, it appears to be steering the industry in the wrong direction by relying on dirty fossil fuels.
The Biden administration’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants, providing more than a decade for compliance, seems like a reasonable approach. However, it has some drawbacks, such as exempting over 80% of current fossil gas power plants, which are among the dirtiest and costliest in the nation.
Despite these shortcomings, the Edison Electric Institute plans to oppose the proposal, which is concerning, given Southern California Edison’s own climate commitments to be 80% clean by 2030 and 100% by 2045, in line with California law. Opposing Biden’s plan contradicts SCE’s claims of environmental responsibility.
This behavior from utilities is not new. For the last 50 years, electric utilities have been denying climate change and hindering climate action. In the past, they argued for the viability of “clean coal” and “carbon capture” technologies, but now they claim carbon capture is too challenging.
In reality, electric utilities could benefit from the clean energy revolution if they embraced it. As more Americans shift to electric vehicles and heat pumps, there will be increased demand for electricity, providing utilities with an opportunity to prosper. Instead, backing old and dirty energy sources is a shortsighted approach.
The signs of climate breakdown worldwide are increasingly alarming, with devastating wildfires, melting ice, and record-high temperatures. It’s unacceptable for utility executives like Pedro Pizarro of Edison International to lobby against climate action while witnessing the devastating effects of climate disasters firsthand.
Pizarro has expressed support for clean energy and electrification as the only viable path forward, recognizing that society has no choice but to transition rapidly. Now, he and other utility executives face a critical choice: stand behind the trade group’s efforts to hinder climate action or uphold their commitments and reject this extreme stance.
Climate groups have called on utility executives to publicly denounce the trade group’s position. Time is running out, with the public comment period for the proposed federal rules closing soon. Southern California Edison and the utility trade association still have an opportunity to make the right choice.
Opportunities arise in life when we can act in line with our values and be on the right side of history. For Pizarro, a prominent industry leader claiming to lead on climate issues, now is the chance to prove his sincerity through action.
Leah C. Stokes, an environmental politics professor at UC Santa Barbara and a senior advisor at Rewiring America, advocates for utility executives to embrace climate action and make a difference in this critical moment.